Archive for the 'Diversity in IT' Category

Once An Activist…

The notion of activism has been swirling around me for the past week or so.

I’ve always been an activist at heart. Standing up for what I believe in. Speaking truth to power. Privately, I lean *far* to the left and care deeply about issues of social justice, race, LGBT rights, gender equity, and more. Publicly, at work, I’ve focused primarily on advancing diversity in tech, especially gender diversity.

But lately, I’ve been asked — and have felt compelled — to do more. A colleague told me last week that I needed to “get involved” and “be an activist.” I have a perspective that needs to be heard.

The last two days have been difficult in Charlotte. A(nother) black man shot by the police. Protests. Riots. A protester shot and killed….and a state of emergency called. It’s sadly no different than what’s been happening in so many places across this country, but this one hits very, very close to home. My college community — faculty, staff, and students alike — came together in a moment of solidarity this morning. The message, from those who spoke, was clear. Solidarity is nice, but it doesn’t change anything. Action is needed. Be an activist.

I’ve always believed that those of us who hold positions of power have a responsibility to use that power for the greater good. It’s what I so greatly respect about Colin Kaepernick sitting/kneeling during the pledge (although, as a 49ers fan, I’m disappointed in Kaep for other reasons). And it’s why I advocate so repeatedly, and vocally, for women in tech.

But I can (and will) do more. I have power in my position, and power in my privilege. I stand with the #blacklivesmatter movement, and sit with Kaepernick. I rally against discrimination of any form, especially the hateful HB2. And I continue to advocate for #genderequity and diversity in all its forms within higher education and the IT community.

A Focus on Success

I read about new research recently that looks at why some black men succeed in college. As a research question it seemed a little odd and overly vague to me, but after reading a little bit more about it, I was intrigued.

We’ve all heard the stats — black men make up a painfully small percentage of undergraduate students, and (at least in some parts of the country), a young black man is more likely to be in prison than in college. <sigh> But some black men DO go to college, and succeed there. The researcher (Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D.) decided to focus here — on the success stories — to see if there were identifiable and replicable factors in these successes, instead of continuing to perpetuate a black-men-as-college-failures narrative that helps to “shape America’s low expectations for black men.”

I get where Dr. Harper’s coming from. In the IT world, you don’t have to look too closely to realize that there is a serious shortage of women (and minorities) in the profession. And there’s no lack of discussion about the reasons (some valid, some not-so-much)  — women aren’t good at math and science, it’s a pipeline problem, the demands drive women of child-bearing age out, there’s a lot of sexism, it’s an image problem, and so on and so forth. At every conference I’ve been to, groups band together to discuss the situation and talk about how to bring more women into the profession. But tragically, it seems that these conversations all end up at the same place — with women describing, to one degree or another, the obstacles they have faced in their careers.

At the risk of sounding terribly insensitive…I’m tired of hearing about this. I understand and empathize with my colleagues about their experiences, and the obstacles they have faced, and continue to face, in their jobs. I get it, because I’ve lived it. I’ve been invited to sit at the “big boys table” and had vendors treat my (male) subordinates with more deference and respect than me. But much like Dr. Harper, I would rather focus on why I (and others like me) *have* been successful, rather than continue to belabor our negative experiences.

In his research, Dr. Harper found that there were multiple factors that contributed to black men’s success, and I suspect the same would be true for women in IT. I know that a combination of good role models and mentors, an inquisitive nature, and an aversion to being told that I can’t succeed at something, are all ingredients in my recipe for success. What ingredients are in yours?

Diversity in Desktop Support, The Sequel

On February 5, I launched a job search for two, part-time technical support specialists to join our user support team (see 2/9 post, below). Two weeks later the search is completed, technicians hired, and the gender diversity results are in — over 115 applicants and fewer than 10 women in the pool, total (as low as 6, with a few not clearly identifiable as male or female). That’s less than 9%, folks.

Our search netted some amazing candidates, and we were lucky enough to hire two of them. No surprise — both new hires are men.

It saddens me that there were so few women in the pool to begin with, and even fewer who came anywhere close to meeting the minimum qualifications. But diversity comes in numerous forms, and gender is only one of them. This hiring experience has caused me to reflect on the overall diversity of my team, including direct staff, student workers, and the extended team we outsource our infrastructure services to.

  • 4 staff members (including me): 3 men and 1 woman; 3 Caucasian and 1 African American
  • 6 student workers: 4 men and 2 women; 3 Caucasian, 1 African American, and 2 Asian
  • 4 extend team members: 3 men and 1 woman; 2 Caucasian and 2 Asian

So, in total, my team consists of 14 people, of which 4 are women (29%) and 6 are non-white (43%). Not great, but all things considered, not terrible either. When I think about the diversity trends in IT, I feel proud that we’ve been able to pull together as diverse of a team as this in such a short period of time (I’ve been here 6 months, and at the time of my joining there were no women on the team and only one non-white).

There’s more we can (and *will*) do, of course, but isn’t there always?

Only 6% Women in Desktop Support?!?

I posted a job announcement for 2 part-time technical support specialist positions on Friday evening, and by this evening–72 hours later–had over 80 responses, with more coming every minute. What was astounding to me wasn’t the overwhelming response (okay, maybe that was a little astounding), but the complete lack of women in the applicant pool.

Of the 80+ applicants, only 5 were easily identifiable as women. That’s 6 percent!! Even factoring in the couple of Asian names that I am uncertain about, the applicant pool is less than 10% female. Why?

Are women not suffering the same unemployment rates that others are at the moment? Are they less interested in part-time work? Or are women simply not well represented in the desktop support area of IT? Let’s hope if this is the case, it’s not reflective of IT overall. I know at my previous institution, there was only one woman on a desktop support team of ~13 (not including the female manager of the team).

I’m disappointed, and disturbed by this response. I’m a woman. I’d love to hire more (qualified) women. But with only 5 in the applicant pool, what’s a diversity-loving CIO to do?


Update 2/10/10: I now have more than 100 responses to the ad, and no more women. So now the numbers are looking like 5/100+. Geesh!

Lessons from a “Racist” Webcam

A couple of days before Christmas a big news story about HP’s “racist” webcam hit the airwaves. It was, in true network news fashion, over sensationalized, but despite that, serves as an important reminder for those of us in IT – diversity matters, not just for diversity’s sake, but for the sake of the products we create. I’ve read in several places that early voice recognition software didn’t recognize female voices, and more recently, that some software might not fit women’s learning styles. Why? Because they weren’t designed with women in mind, or (in the case of voice recognition) tested on them.

We all do it. We grab our student assistants—hey, you’re a student, can you look at this?—to “test” our websites. We seek out IT-friendly faculty to evaluate our newest instructional aide. Or we round up our sys admins and database developers to garner feedback on our latest application in development. The problem, of course, is that these groups are not necessarily representative of our target audiences for these products and services. Our student assistants and faculty friends are likely more tech savvy than their peers, and predisposed (we hope) to viewing IT favorably. And our staff, well…

IT is not a diverse profession. It turns out that this matters not only for those of us who are in it (and desperately seeking peers “like us”), but for *all* consumers of technology. HP’s webcam isn’t racist, but it may be a product of its environment. On its blog, HP noted that they use “standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose.” Perhaps this “standard algorithm” would be different, if more people of color were on the design team?

Welcome to the Club

While attending the ECAR Symposium earlier this month I was introduced, by my former boss and mentor, to a number of fellow attendees as the new CIO at Menlo. During one such introduction, a gentleman who didn’t appear to be much older than myself exclaimed, “Wow, are you the youngest CIO in the country?” I’m sure flattery was the intention (I know I look young), even though our country’s first CIO, Vivek Kundra, was only 34 at the time of his appointment (…but not *that* young).

About 25% of all CIOs are under 40, and only 10% are women, according to CIO Magazine’s 2010 State of the CIO Survey. So, as a woman who is under 40, I am definitely among the minority in my profession. The (probably totally innocent) comment about my age served as one of many reminders at ECAR of this minority status. Later in the conference, at a special session for California CIOs, I had a chance to observe the demographics of the 20 attendees in the room: 15 men (75%), 5 women (25%), and 3 apparent ethnic minorities (15%). Only 2 of the 5 women (2/20, or 10%) were CIOs/held their institution’s top IT position; many of the men did, however, their relative percentage is unknown. The average age of the group appeared to be (well) north of 50.

Setting aside both the small sample size and the rather unscientific nature of data collection, the demographics of this group were exactly what one would expect – older, white, men. This is my “peer” group, professionally speaking; except that, it’s not. Gen-anythings, people of color, and women aren’t truly a part of the club, yet.

It’s not that we’re not welcome to join, of course. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who has (purposefully) made me feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed. But as a whole, the “CIO club” is a formidable and somewhat intimidating group—around which I am often self-conscious about what I say or do for fear of either looking foolish myself or reflecting poorly on others in my age group/gender, as the (often) sole young woman in the room. The typical club member simply cannot understand the sensitivity I have to gendered language, or know how difficult it is, as a 30-something woman, to walk into a room of 50-something men and try to make small talk.

As a new CIO, I suppose I am now a de facto member of this club, but I don’t feel like I am an intrinsic part of it. Today, I’m an outlier. Tomorrow….who knows.

@rclemmons on Twitter

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